Rio Rocks!

Trip Start Oct 01, 2002
Trip End Aug 08, 2005

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Thursday, September 16, 2004

Hello from Rio! Yes, we´re in Rio de Janeiro, often quoted as being one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and despite hearing this about countless places around the world, we´d have to agree. The guidebooks can make you paranoid about your safety but the city has such a buzz, the mixture of architecture is amazing and the people are great, yes, Rio rocks!

Back to Buenos Aires and on our last night there we did get to see an opera at the Teatro Colon which was nice and something different, although we left with 2 completely different ideas of what it was all about and we did feel a little out of place in our jeans and hiking boots! The trip to the airport the next morning was a bit frantic as we tried to negotiate the city´s bus system but our B.A flight to Sao Paulo, Brazil, worked out quite well as they bumped us up into Business Class, although Kev again didn´t get to see the last 20 mins of his film!

Sao Paulo is infamous for it´s lack of safety so upon arriving, we taxied to our Global Freeloader´s apartment in a pretty nice area with fabulous views over the sprawling city. It´s absolutely massive, the third largest metropolis in the world, stretching for 60 miles in places and home to some 17 milion people, it is a city of complete contrasts as the fabulously rich rub shoulders living right next door to the poor slums, separated only by a road and a security fence. We were given a tour around the local area in our host`s car, including the nearby favela (slum) built of any spare material haphazzardly put together but quite well contructed and it´s a complete community with small shops, bars and homes spilling out onto the multi lane highways and not at all threatening, (from inside the car!) For dinner that night, Marjory´s (our host´s) maid cooked us up a small feast and then again for breakfast before we reminisced about Glastonbuury with Marjory who got to go this year and told us what a fantastic time we missed.

As we don´t have long in Brazil (only 8 days) we decided to catch a night bus to Rio that evening giving us the rest of the day to explore Sao Paulo. So, somewhat cautiously, we caught the metro into the centre and after storing our bags at the bus station, took in the views from the 41 storey Italia building before being mobbed by street kids who let out a kind of war cry upon spotting Kev as a white tourist and weren´t going to leave us without getting something. Thankfully they only snatched a juice bottle as we quickly dived into a music store to shake them off. It was a good wake up call to just how quickly trouble comes along here in even the busiest of streets. We wandered around the sights a bit longer but on red alert for trouble and hyper cautious although we returned to the bus station unharmed for some food and the company of a strange but very friendly Brazilian guy who thankfully sorted out the problems with our meal order as they speak bloody Portuguese here and we´re completely ignorant as, apart from ´obrigado´ (thank you), we know little more!

The bus to Rio was very good as overnight journeys go but we arrived at 6 a.m absolutely knackered then waited until 9 (it was Saturday morning) to phone our Global Freeloader host (Valeria) for the next few days. We´ve been making good use of Globalfreeloaders lately and have to say that it´s the best website ever, the people we have met have been fabulous and it really gives us an insight into what it´s like to live in the places, something that we just wouldn´t get from staying in a hotel. Our Rio host has been great. Valeria has an apartment with views of Cristo de Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) who sits atop Corcovado hill overlooking the city. The apartment is also only a stone´s throw away from Flamengo Beach which has a view of Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) and loads of scantily clad bodies parading along the boulevard. After a quick nap and a meal out, we hit a club which is currently poplular with the locals and it was fantastic. Set in an old, pink mansion, one room had a six piece Samba band playing live music that really got everyone going whilst another room had a live Latin American come rock band, the mix of music was excellent. We had a great time as we drank Brazilian Skol until way past 4 in the morning.

Unsurprising Sunday got off to a slow start but we shopped at the friendly local market (just like those in Africa or India really) before heading off to Ipanema beach made famous by the song which has been stuck in Sian´s head ever since we arrived. Unfortunately it was a touch cloudy for the real Rio beach experience so we headed off to a local craft market nearby. Monday morning and we were up and about early, heading up Corcovado whilst it was clear to see the Christ the Redeemer statue up close and the fabulous views over Rio. The Art Deco statue which, when lit up at night appears to float in the sky above Rio, is surrounded by a pocket of Atlantic rainforest right on the doorstep of the city. Unfortunately it was only clear right up until we got to the top of the hill when the low cloud came rolling in across the bay. It was actually quite appropriate as we stood there praying for the clouds to clear so we could catch a glimpse of the city below! Occasionally we were rewarded with a brief glimpse and the crowd responded with a cheer but it didn´t happen that often. Later on we caught an old city tram which was more of a rollercoaster ride, into the Bohemian district of Santa Teresa where crumbling old mansions with exotic gardens have looked out from a hill over the city for centuries and line the narrow, winding, cobbled streets. We visited a mansion which has been turned into a museum full of antique furniture and has some fantastic original artwork from all over the world including Picassos and a Monet and forms one of the best private collections we have seen anywhere.

Early the next morning the skies had completely cleared so we took the opportunity to visit Sugarloaf Mountain which rises up dramatically from the bay and offers spectacular panoramic views of the city and it´s beaches, this time without a cloud in sight. We could only gaze around in wonder. We then ventured into the centre of town to visit some old colonial buildings and other historic landmarks, some areas were a bit dodgy and it was easy to see that we were getting noticed but it was all fine and the town was great.
We left Valeria´s place that night on an overnight bus bound for Ouro Preto which is Portuguese for black gold and is named after the African slaves who mined for gold there.

Arriving at 6 in the morning we had plenty of time to wander the hilly, winding and roughly cobbled streets to view the multitude of churches in town apparently showcasing some of the most important Brazilian art and all with loads of gold adornments and colouful paintings. We´re not sure why one town needed so many churches or why the recommended tour led us from one side of the town to the other and back again, twice, but it´s a really pretty place and there was plenty to see (if you like churches...) and there is lots of gold and opulence about. We even visited an old mine which was once owned by an African king who bought his own freedom and that of his friends. The African influence in Brazil is really obvious, as much as that of the Portuguese, 40 percent of slaves ended up in this country and the overall feel is an eclectic mix of cultures moulded together over the centuries.

Another night bus took us back to Rio and we spent the rest of today strolling along Copacabana (another song for Sian`s head) and Ipanema beaches. There are the usual tourist touts and scams going on, one guy wanted 100 Reais (over 30 USD) after he insisted on giving our boots a bit of a ´professional´ brush with some pink watery stuff, they didn´t even get the well needed polish. He wasn´t happy when we only gave him a fraction of the amount but it wasn´t even worth that as Kev told him it was a ´ridiculoso´ scam, which was the best Portuguese he had to offer!

We have really enjoyed Rio and would love to come back to Brazil (another one to add to the list) as there´s so much to explore here, carnival time would be amazing. There´s so much in the city to do and see and despite our paranoid guidebook, it´s really easy to get around on the local buses, quite safe and very relaxed. We leave tomorrow on an afternoon flight to ....well, you´ll just have to wait and see!

Take care all,
K & S.
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